Paris is my hometown, a city I love more than any on Earth. I remember sitting as a child near the radio in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen near Porte de Clichy and hearing about bombings and terrorism in an Algeria that was seeking its independence. I was too young to understand the anguished reactions of grown-ups who thought of colonialism as their birthright. As anyone can tell you who has watched the 1966 movie The Battle of Algiers, Parisians discovered citywide terrorism practically before anyone else.
Last Friday night, Parisians were killed while they were trying to have fun: watching soccer, going to a concert, sitting in neighborhood bistros at the start of what my compatriots call “le weekend.”
The word “bataclan” is roughly the equivalent of “all that jazz,” a way to end a sentence without listing the whole kit and kaboodle. I have never been to a show at Le Bataclan, a music venue Parisians know the way Angelenos know the Chinese Theater, mostly as a historic building in an entertainment district. I checked the addresses of the three restaurants where people died in the kind of hellfire no one associates with Paris: I knew exactly where they were and, on Yelp, found perfectly ordinary pictures of grilled octopus and spring rolls covered in crushed peanuts.
I thought that the Stade de France would have had to be the primary target. French president François Hollande was there, it was a sold-out match between France and Germany, and, not incidentally, the stadium is in the kind of riot-prone outlying neighborhood where scores of desperate young Muslims could disappear among their brethren. Every time new information came through, I had the geography in my mind and I muttered, “it could have been so much worse.”
French politicians are beating their chests and talking about war, just as their counterparts did in the U.S. after September 11. Every time someone plays “La Marseillaise,” I think of the bloodthirsty lyrics of my national anthem (“let an impure blood water our furrows”). As a pacifist who saw the integration of millions of Muslims into secular French society, I fear vengeful sentiments and the cycle of violence—the bitter lessons of colonialism.